2020 Update: This article has seen a significant increase in new readers and I understand why. This has been a challenging year like no other, and it’s been felt so hard by young people. In this article I share that family members and I cope with anxiety, and I won’t deny that this year has been tough. We’ve utilized many of the coping skills listed here and they’ve made a real difference. There are updates to several coping skills on the list.
I hope the article and list is a helpful aid in coping with your own anxiety, or that of someone you love.
Much love, happiness, and health to you and yours ~
Anxiety is something often ignored, misdiagnosed, and misunderstood. It’s normal to feel anxious at certain times and everyone does, but when anxiety begins to interfere with your life, it’s most likely an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is something several members of my family cope with (me included!), but it wasn’t until my middle child was diagnosed that I began to understand that there are effective ways to help ourselves deal with it.
National prevalence data indicate that nearly 40 million people in the United States (18%) experience an anxiety disorder in any given year. To learn more about anxiety and anxiety disorders: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety
Over the years, through research, professional recommendations, and testing ways to cope with anxiety by my children and me, we’ve collected over twenty different effective ways to cope with anxiety. We find they can stave off, lessen the impact, or at least shorten the duration of our anxiety. It’s all about living as normal a life as we can. (I often remind my teens, and myself, that “normal” is a subjective term!)
All of these are good coping skills for anxiety, but choose a few to get started and add more along the way.
This article is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Check with your doctor or mental health professional.
Twenty Ways to Cope with Anxiety – Mom & Teen Tested
1. Control your breathing
Controlling your breathing will help you feel more in control of yourself and your reaction to the way your anxiety makes you feel. It helps give oxygen to your brain, relaxes your muscles, and encourages you focus on something other than the thoughts that are causing the anxiety.
2. Positive affirmations
Clear out the negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Get into the habit of repeating a few of them several times a day, especially in the morning and before bed. They help align your thoughts on healthier ideas. (I know they have a kind of cheesy reputation in some circles, but saying kind things to yourself is a good for you, and much better than the negativity that’s rattling around in your mind.) My favorite app to use is ThinkUp, but you can check out others in a Top 10 list here.
Update – Something my teens and I have found that was a pleasant surprise is that there are TikTok users that specialize in putting out positive messages, affirmations, and are generally uplifting. I won’t make specific recommendations because it’s a fast-paced platform. If you’re interested, I encourage you to look through with your teen. There are some mental health professionals that are putting out some very good material, but there are also some that aren’t professionals and must mean well, but are questionable at times.
3. Meditate for mindfulness
I was late to the game in using meditation, despite many friends, professionals, and research telling me how great it was. Meditation has been shown to help anxiety, can actually change the brain, and a whole host of other benefits, and it’s been something that my teens and I enjoy doing together. Our favorite guided meditation app is Smiling Mind. It really does make a difference for our overall day-to-day, so don’t be like me and wait any longer.
Update – I have been using HeadSpace since early April 2020. NY was kind enough to negotiate a deal with them since we were very much in the thick of pandemic freak-out mode in the state. The pandemic news has improved in the state, but this, as you know friend, is a very stressful year. I have continued to use it and recommend it.
4. Do yoga
The benefits of yoga include better mental focus, increased balance, burned calories, and stretched tight muscles. Controlled breathing is usually a part of it, which is something it and meditation have in common, therefore it also can be calming for anxious thoughts. I have truly lost a lot of flexibility and balance over the years, and it’s been a challenge, but I’m seeing real improvements and benefits from it. If I can do it, you can, too.
Update – I have found that I’m never going to be an advanced yoga practitioner, but there are still benefits in doing even the simplest poses over and over. The rhythm can be a meditation of sorts. So, don’t give up on it.
5. Get out into nature
There’s a lot of scientific research to show that nature is very calming, and that our brainwaves settle into better patterns when we spend time there. Some research says 10 minutes is enough, others say 20 minutes should be the target time. I say that if the effort has been made to get outside, get in as much as you can. And this doesn’t mean you have to go to the middle of the deep woods. Go to a park, sit under a tree, or walk around your own back yard. It’s the perfect time for #6.
Update – Walks have been essential for my family. Not only are we shedding some of the weight we put on due to comfort-eating and stress, but connecting with nature and each other has been a joy.
6. Engage your senses
We often go about our days mindlessly. This skill helps us be mindful. It’s also a great way to distract attention from negative thoughts. The technique is to choose five things you see, four things you hear, three things you feel (touch), two things you smell, and one thing you taste (in my family, we imagine tasting chocolate if there’s nothing else available). Take a few minutes to be mindful of your surroundings.
7. Take a warm shower or bath
This is a classic way to relax and calm your thoughts. I find that the process of taking a shower or bath is often enough to disengage negative thoughts. The bath or shower is a great place to be alone with your thoughts, however, and sometimes that’s not what we want when feeling particuarly anxious. My family members have playlists of upbeat music they use during that time. (Parents: Having timed playlists also helps eliminate overlong showers or baths.) In any case, the warm water is soothing and it gives you a chance to relax.
8. Use essential oils
This section could also be called “Things that smell good and make you feel happy”, which is exactly what I use essential oils for. Citrus oils are used liberally around my house because the bright scents are uplifting for us. For others, it might be warm cinnamon or floral blends. Find the scents that you enjoy and use them to help create a pleasant environment.
Stress is something we all deal with, but anxiety can cause a stressful situation to blow up out of proportion. Self-care can help alleviate stress. Personally, having time alone is essential for me and it’s something I have to go out of my way to create. But, I do it anyway. Whatever you consider for your own self-care, choose something and do it regularly. Paying quality attention to yourself isn’t selfish or a waste of time. It’s healthy and important.
10. Eat healthy
This really is another form of self-care, but eating healthy is so important in all areas of your life. Managing your anxiety will be more difficult if your body isn’t healthy, and that includes your brain. We pay special attention to sugar in my family, and here’s why.
Update – As mentioned above, we did some stress- and comfort-eating early on in the year, but we’ve been literally enjoying the fruits of our labor from our garden, have started using calorie logs – not so much to be very strict, but to make sure we’re not very lax – and trying some plant-based recipes. Being mindful of nutrition, rather than rewards or comfort, is what we’re working on for our relationship with food.
11. Get moving
Go to the gym, go for a walk, turn on some tunes and dance, attend a yoga class, take a ride on your bike, or any other way you choose to get moving. All that motion helps distract the anxious thoughts, and the resulting endorphins are our body’s way to reward us for the exercise.
Update – We have discovered there are some effective and soothing motions that work well for us when the anxiety is building. By rocking side to side at the waist or stretching as widely as we can and then going into a big hug have been wonderful for us. I would recommend Googling “anxiety soothing motions” and see what works for you.
12. Get your Zzzzz’s
Getting enough rest is important for your mind and your body. But anxious thoughts often keep us awake or wake us up in the night. (I’ve seen my share of 3 a.m. wake up calls from my anxious brain.) A good and consistent bedtime routine is a must, and for that, or to get back to sleep, I need some help. I’ve found using an audio app to be the best solution. My choice is Relax Melodies. I use the free version, but the premium has so many cool features that I intend to upgrade to take advantage of them. (Unpaid review – it’s just that good!)
Update – I have been using some binaural beat melodies from YouTube, as well. Some of them have black screens that won’t disturb your sleep. My favorite is this one.
13. Limit your social media
There’s nothing like comparison-itis, family or friend rants, or negative news posts to stir up anxious thoughts, and social media is a prime culprit. If you find that the obviously perfect lives of your contacts (they’re not, of course), online arguments, or troubling world news trigger anxiety, then do yourself a favor and limit your time there. This is equally important for teens.
Update – It’s 2020. Social media is pretty much toxic this year. Seriously, be very choosy what you expose yourself to.
14. Be productive
Diverting your attention from your anxious thoughts to accomplishing something, however small, is a great way to cope with them. Choose something off your to-do list that you can complete quickly. Once you’ve done that, you can tackle the jobs on the list that are making you anxious, since you’re on a roll. (Right?) Another way to help alleviate anxiety and something that causes it is clearing the clutter. Again, set yourself a small task, like clearing a table. It’s a start, and embracing decluttering is going to make your environment less stressful.
Update – Having extra time on my hands for a while meant that I was able to tackle a LOT of household chores. Once we got started, things started to snowball. The result, I felt much better accomplishing something, I had a calm (instead of cluttered) environment for me and my family, and I didn’t have time for anxiety.
15. Get creative
Creativity is a great outlet for stress and anxiety. If you don’t have hobbies, I recommend getting one. Being creative doesn’t necessarily mean painting or adult coloring books (although those are great), but it could mean doing crossword puzzles, gardening, sewing, building computers… Really, the list is endless. In short, use your imagination for something positive and creative.
16. Listen or watch uplifting podcasts or videos
I’m a big believer in keeping things positive and feeding my mind with only the best ideas. If you haven’t listened to podcasts or videos like TedTalk, you should give it a try. Here’s a few links to get you started.
17. Spend time with someone who loves you
Whether this is a friend, a family member, a spouse/partner, or your pet, spend time with someone who is non-judgmental, caring, and helpful in relieving stress, not causing it. My daughter will often come to me for a hug and snuggle when anxiety starts. There’s nothing like laughing, having an engaged conversation, or loving touch to help melt stress and anxiety when they start.
Update – This has been such a tough thing for many of us. Being isolated from the people we’re used to seeing everyday, or our loved ones and friends isn’t natural.
It has been the toughest for my daughter in our family. Video chats and watch parties have been her go-to and it’s helped. But, there are times when it’s not enough. Do what you can to connect in a safe and healthy way. It’s important to keep those relationships.
18. Keep a journal
Using a journal will be helpful in a couple of ways. First of all, it will allow you to say what you want to vent in a safe place and to get things off your chest and, hopefully, out of your mind. Secondly, it will allow you to keep track of things, times, people or situations that seem to trigger anxiety. By recognizing a pattern, you may be able to avoid an anxious time for yourself in the future.
19. Let it go of some of your expectations
Anxiety is often characterized by recurring negative thoughts, and there’s nothing like rehashing an old hurt or disappointment for the gazillionth time to get things stirred up. Forgiving and forgetting can be difficult, but getting anxious about the past on a regular basis is tough, too. Working through those feelings will be beneficial. We can’t change the past or what happened, but we can change what and how we think about them, and, consequently, our reactions.
Update – Be kind to yourself. Speak kindly to yourself. Shed what might be unreasonable expectations of yourself – and others, too. When you’re feeling well is the time to take a look at what might be triggers for your anxiety. Use that time to work through some of them, and eventually leave them behind you. [My own way of doing this is that I envision the recurring negative thought as a ratty old piece of clothing. I really get into details of it. It’s beat up and ugly and I don’t want it anymore. If the thought tries to creep back in, that vision of the clothes comes to mind and I throw it in the trash.]
20. Talk with a professional
There may come a point when the coping skills you’re using are enough. There are certainly others that can be incorporated into your daily life. I’m happy to say that the stigma of seeking counseling is less than what it was in the past, and there are programs for all income levels. It’s a logical next step if your anxiety is interfering with your life on any regular basis.
Update – Telehealth is a thing now. I have heard different opinions on what people think about therapy over the phone or by video. My thought is that if you need to talk to a professional – and at this stage of 2020, who doesn’t? – use whatever means you have at hand to do so. It won’t be forever, and you may end up changing your mind if it’s not your thing right now. I personally know a few folks who have done just that.
My teens and I may have anxiety, but together, and incorporating these coping skills, we’re happy and healthy individuals living great lives.
It’s my sincerest hope that you have taken away some ideas from this article and list. Save any or all of these quotes and Pinterest-ready images. And please share this article with someone you think could benefit from it.
Wishing you all the best and good living,
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